Popular low-carb diets, like Atkins and keto, might make you wonder if carbohydrates are healthy for you or if you should avoid them. Carbs are an essential nutrient and the primary energy source for the body. Cutting back on carbohydrates can reduce your energy levels and increase the risk of other symptoms, such as constipation, dizziness and headaches.
However, people with certain conditions, like diabetes, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, need to be mindful about their carb intake. It’s important to clarify that individuals with these conditions shouldn’t avoid carbs altogether (unless recommended by their health care providers) but rather focus on the type and amount of carbs they eat and what they pair them with, per the American Diabetes Association (ADA). This will help them manage their blood sugar levels to prevent spikes.
Carbohydrates can be found in many food groups, not just in grains. Dairy products, fruits, legumes and vegetables also contain this nutrient in different amounts. In this article, several dietitians help us identify which veggies are the lowest in carbs and discuss how people with chronic diseases can benefit from them.
Pictured Recipe: Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Spinach is not only used across cuisines, but it’s full of nutrients. “Spinach is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and several vitamins. It’s also a good source of folate, fiber and antioxidants,” says Crystal Scott, M.S., RDN, a dietitian at Top Nutrition Coaching. A 2023 study published in Molecules found that an antioxidant in spinach called alpha-lipoic acid reduces symptoms of metabolism-related diseases and diabetic neuropathy.
Scott recommends using spinach in omelets, soups and salads or lightly sauteeing it with garlic and olive oil for a warm side dish. She says, “The fiber content helps slow down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream, preventing rapid spikes in blood sugar levels.” A cup of raw spinach has just one gram of carbs, per the USDA.
Kale is packed with many vitamins and minerals and is a great rich source of selenium, an essential mineral that helps your body make antioxidant enzymes. According to MedlinePlus, antioxidant enzymes help prevent cell damage. “Leafy greens like kale make a perfect addition for anyone with diabetes. Leafy greens are low in carbohydrates and have a minimal impact on blood sugar, making them a wonderful staple in a diabetic-friendly diet,” notes Josten Fish, RD, owner of Dietitian Meets Mom. According to the USDA, one cup of kale has less than a gram of carbs. Fish recommends trying out these Kale Chips for a delicious and crunchy snack.
Cauliflower steak recipes have increased the popularity of this veggie. Cauliflower is packed with nutrients like folate, potassium, fiber and vitamins C and K. A 2023 study published in Frontiers in Nutrition found that cauliflower is rich in a bioavailable antioxidant called protocatechuic acid (PCA), which protects against inflammation in diabetes. The study authors concluded that people with diabetes should eat foods with PCA, like cauliflower, daily to gain heart-health benefits. One cup of chopped cauliflower has just over 5 grams of carbs. Looking for other ways to enjoy cauliflower? Try dipping it in this Chipotle Ranch Dressing.
Another vegetable Scott recommends you include in your rotation is zucchini. “Zucchini is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and folate. It’s also low in calories and provides fiber, which can aid in digestion,” she says. Additionally, since it’s lower in carbs, it won’t spike your blood sugar. Per the USDA, one cup of cooked zucchini has less than 5 grams of carbs. According to the American Diabetes Association, the glycemic load of zucchini is just 1, which is the best a food can score. Scott tells us, “Glycemic Load (GL) is a measure that takes into account both the glycemic index (GI) of a food and the amount of carbohydrates it contains in a typical serving. It provides a more accurate picture of how a specific food will affect blood sugar levels.” Try our Shrimp Scampi Zoodles for a flavorful and nutritious meal.
Registered dietitian Emily Tills, RD, owner of Nourished with Emily, recommends not only focusing on the amount of carbs but also choosing vegetables that are high in fiber. She points out that artichokes have more fiber than most other veggies on this list, with more than 8 grams per cup of hearts, according to the USDA. “It offers a higher fiber content to create less of a blood sugar impact. Fiber slows down digestion and creates a steadier stream of energy into the bloodstream,” she explains. What better way to reap the benefits of artichokes than by enjoying these Smashed Artichokes with Lemon-Dill Aioli?
This veggie is packed with vitamins C and K, fiber, folate and potassium, with 6 grams per cup (raw and chopped), per the USDA. Additionally, broccoli is a member of the Brassica family—known for its substantial health benefits. A 2023 article published in Frontiers in Nutrition suggests that Brassicas are rich in selenium and have anti-diabetes effects through lowering inflammation in the body. Scott recommends roasting broccoli in the oven after tossing it with olive oil, garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.
Asparagus is another veggie with a low score of 1 in glycemic load, and Till notes that it’s one of the highest-fiber vegetables with the lowest carbs. “Vegetables that have a low net-carb count will have a lesser impact on blood sugar levels,” she says. Asparagus fits the bill: nearly half of the carbohydrates in asparagus are due to the fiber. According to the USDA, four asparagus spears have less than 3 grams of carbohydrates, of which 1.2 grams are fiber. If you’re not a fan of asparagus, you may just need to add a delicious cheese topping. Give our Cheesy Asparagus recipe a try.
8. Brussels Sprouts
Fiber not only helps manage your blood sugar levels but provides tons of other benefits. According to the CDC, this mighty nutrient can also help maintain healthy cholesterol numbers, reduce cancer risk, and promote a healthy weight. And… you guessed it! Brussels sprouts are lower in carbs but packed with fiber. One cup of raw Brussels sprouts provides less than 8 grams of carbs and almost 4 grams of fiber, per the USDA. If you’re wary of how to cook this cruciferous vegetable properly, try roasting or steaming them.
The Bottom Line
Carbs are an essential nutrient and should be part of a healthy and balanced diet. Yet, people with some conditions, like diabetes, may need to pay special attention to how many and what type they consume throughout the day. These veggies with lower carb amounts can provide sustained energy throughout the day. Plus, with so many delicious ways to prepare them, you’ll never get bored.